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"Dude, this ain't Macallan."

Do you ever just know? I was at an Irish Pub tonight and after a meal at the bar I ordered a Macallan 12yr. I ordered it neat. I took a sip and it stung me like a rattler. I asked the bartender for a side of rocks and dropped in a cube. It still stung me. At first I thought maybe I'd lost my Scotch whiskey "chops". But Macallan 12yr is aged in Sherry casks which imparts (among other things) a bouncy, rubbery mouthfeel which was virtually absent from what I was drinking. I told the bartender "Dude, this ain't Macallan". He assured me that it was indeed Macallan (surprise). I paid my bill which included the Scotch and chalked it up to experience.
Do you ever just know that what you are drinking isn't the real deal? What can really be done about it? How common is it do you think?


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  1. A good bartender will take it back and give you something else. But, then again, a good bartender won't refill bottles. This is a very distressing, not to mention illegal, practice. Many customers who drink their whiskey mixed probably wouldn't notice which makes the practice even more heinous

    6 Replies
    1. re: chazzerking

      My wife and I know what basic Tanqueray gin tastes like because we drink it at home on a regular basis. Dining out, we order Tanqueray gin martinis, straight up, all gin, no vermouth, no lemon, olives on the side please. We have ordered them in restaurants all over the world and sorry to report that at least 50% of the time, we are not served Tanqueray-- but something else. We have gone through all the "we would never do anything like that," "the shaker must have been dirty" and "I saw the bartender open a fresh bottle" denials. Occasionally, they return with the real mccoy, but the fact is, we know what the drink is supposed to taste like and there is an enormous amount of lying and cheating involving that little green bottle.

      1. re: rshazam

        Question: Why do you order a martini when you're just asking for a straight up gin? That's kinda like asking for a "grilled cheese but hold the cheese" when you should be asking for "toast".

        1. re: jgg13

          this is a bartenders nightmare. Someone who knows the taste of something so clearly and then instead of asking for it, asks for a mixed drink. A Martini has an agent that changes the taste of the initial ingredient. If you only want the gin, ask for it up and chilled. Great advice jgg.

        2. re: rshazam

          I'm thinking that if it happens "at least 50% of the time", it might actually be you. There's no way more than half the bars in the world (you've been at) switch out the booze. It just doesn't happen much at all.

          I suggest taking the other posters' advice and order your drink more accurately.

        3. re: chazzerking

          "But, then again, a good bartender won't refill bottles."

          I personally know a bartender who makes $2k+ a weekend at a trendy bar on the Sunset strip... he has full liberty to serve cheap stuff & ring it up as the good stuff, refill bottles etc., and pocket 50% of the difference... the one snag is that he has full responsibility for inventory.

          1. re: Eat_Nopal

            I know a couple bartenders (and an owner) that once fell into that category. Greed (and collusion) is what drove them out of business.

        4. MIght it have been the cask strength?

          1. A similar thing happend to me in New York (not NYC.) Ordered a Talkisker, neat, after dinner. What showed up was definitely a blend. Not too difficult not to recognize the smoke in Talisker. Server (who didn't speak much English) took it back and then brought out the Talisker bottle for a new pour. That was better!

            2 Replies
            1. re: dogbreath

              Interesting - I'm having a zip of Talisker now and boy, I don't know how anyone can try to fake that. The smoke is so pronounced. Maybe you have to know your restaurants.

              1. re: deepo

                It's a one of a kind taste. Almost like smokey salty bacon. I love it.

            2. Had a friend who ordered a Baileys, the server goes to the bar to get his drink, the Baileys bottle is evidently empty as the bartender shakes the bottle at the manager. Manger returns to the bar with a bottle of Emmetts and he SAW the manager not so discretely pouring the Emmetts into the Baileys bottle. Bartender pours him a drink from the tainted Baileys bottle. The server brings his drink and he refuses it on the grounds that it isn't Baileys. The server insists it's Baileys, gets the manager at my friends request who initially denies filling the Baileys bottle with Emmetts. Manager finally admits what she had done saying "it doesn't matter they are the same product anyway". That restaurant (a rather tony place) lost my friends business as well as the business of everyone he knows. What else were they switching?

              14 Replies
              1. re: kchasky

                Can you please tell me in what city/state this happened? I know people who've worked in some pretty divey bars in Manhattan and this just isn't something that I've ever heard of. I wonder if this is more of a regional issue or maybe I'm just being naive.

                1. re: KTinNYC

                  This was in a Chicago restaurant, midscale place but seemingly the kind of place you wouldn't expect it to happen. I think it has more to do with the integrity of the owner than the geographic location.

                  1. re: KTinNYC

                    I don't mean to sound judgmental, but what dives have you been hanging out in?

                    By the way, this happened to me in Manhattan (at a surprisingly upscale Irish pub in LOWER, LOWER Manhattan [there aren't that many that far south, you figure it out]. The bartender hailed the bar-back and directed him to get another bottle.

                    The bar-back disappeared and reappeared several minutes later. The first warning sign was that the bottle was not behind the bar (this was an Irish whiskey in an Irish bar, folks).

                    The second? The bottle did not reappear with a sealed cap. Can you say "cheap substitute filled out of customer sight?"

                    And it goes without saying, if they're switching the hard stuff, they're switching the kegs too. No, not Coors Light for Guinness, but how about Stella for Boddington's (yes, this happened to me too).

                    1. re: NYChristopher

                      The same night that I told the bartender "[d]ude this ain't Macallan", I also had a Boddington's from the tap. It was completely clear and had no cascade to it as it usually does. I figured that it just wasn't on nitrogen but could it have been something else . . .

                      1. re: NYChristopher

                        James Joyce would not be pleased. That bar can probably switch things allthe time considering the financial crowd that goes there that order drinks for name value alone

                        1. re: MVNYC

                          Just re-reading this thread and wanted to say: If I still lived in New York, I would happily buy you a round, well done!

                        2. re: NYChristopher

                          Given that Stella and Boddingtons are completely different styles (one is a lager while the other is a bitter), this seems far-fetched to me. Also, I find it funny that Boddie's is considered good beer in America, just because it's an import. In England it's the cheap crap. Stella is so much better, so if that happened to you, then you got a deal because it's more expensive :)

                          1. re: berbadeerface

                            How is Stella regarded in it's home country of Belgium?

                            1. re: Chinon00

                              Not very highly, given the availability of diverse, wonderful beer. It's still much better than Boddingtons, though.

                              Oh, and it's "its", not "it's". ;)

                              Interestingly, I just did some research and found that the stuff Boddingtons makes for export has a higher alcohol content than the stuff kept at home. I wonder if it tastes any better...shall have to give it a try!

                              1. re: berbadeerface

                                I 2nd that motion... Boddington is one of the worst beers I have tasted.

                            2. re: berbadeerface

                              Outside of England (and recently here ni the US due to heavy marketing) I haven't seen anyone consider Stella to be anything beyond swill.

                              1. re: jgg13

                                Don't get me wrong - I would choose many other beers before Stella. But I would still put Belgian "swill", as you put it, above the abomination that has hit my lips the few times in my life I've ordered a Boddingtons. Stella doesn't taste BAD, per se, it's just that it has no soul. It's mass-produced beer. Boddie's tastes baaaad...

                                1. re: berbadeerface

                                  Different strokes for different folks. Frankly, I am not a huge fan of most Belgian beers ... I tend to drink German more often (though really, I drink more domestic than anything else).

                          2. re: KTinNYC

                            In Manhattan, even in a "divey" bar -- if it's crowded consistently -- a good bartender and a good manager know that they better serve customers' call brands or they'll be outta business before you know it. It's also a big, time-consuming hassle to refill bottles, and it becomes exponentially more difficult the more booze a place goes through. It's just not worth the extra few bucks a bottle. It's just good business to serve what the customer calls for.

                            About receiving "refill" drinks: My palate is usually very sensitive to differences in spirits, except for about a half hour after I have coffee... then, all bets are off. So if I'm having a drink after dinner, unless it's booze we're putting in the coffee, I usually wait. For this reason, I've never said anything when I've thought that the cognac I ordered *wasn't* the cognac I was brought. Hasn't happened much.

                            The one time I got stuck with rotgut and they wanted to charge me for Ketel One was peculiar. I had just started dating my wife, and it was at the restaurant where she was a partner. I took one sip of my "Ketel and tonic" and it was *gasp* -- gin. Cheap gin. I told my wife-to-be that the manager had made me a gin and tonic and she said to just drink it so as to save face for the manager, who'd poured from the wrong bottle. Well, after our lunch, I decided to have another drink. So I sat at the bar. And *watched* this guy pour from a Ketel One bottle into my glass. Again it was awful gin. I *had* to say something. Now, this manager didn't drink anything - ever. He knew *nothing* of the differences between spirits. I asked him how long he'd been filling expensive bottles with cheap stuff. He seemed astonished - and admitted to me that I'd caught him. He was amazed, he thought that I had some sort of silver palate because I could taste the difference between vodkas, when they'd been mixed with cheap tonic water. I told him no, I don't think I'd be capable of *that,* but that he'd made it a lot easier for me by putting *gin* in the Ketel One bottle. It turns out that this creep had been *regularly* putting cheap vodka in the expensive vodka bottles. Now, English is his second language, and he's never been very good at paying any concentration to what he's doing. He failed to check the labels of the bottles of cheap stuff he was re-filling with. It turns out that that day, in that restaurant, there were lovely bottles from Absolut, Stolichnaya, Skyye, etc. -- and they were all filled with cheap gin. My wife told the other partners and they let this guy have it. He'd single-handedly caused the complete demise of their beverage program because of this stuff. It took a long time after we took over to re-establish the public's trust of the bar program there.

                        3. What I've learned is to avoid ordering top shelf at places that do high volume mixed drinks.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Chinon00

                            I'll second that. In fact I won't order top shelf most anywhere I go anymore (live in Miami) unless they're highly respectable, and even then, I've had my doubts.

                          2. Never had that happen to me in a respectable place, but have had tons of weird experiences in airport bars, which seem to be the bottom rung of the bartending ladder. Latest was this: I order a Dewars and soda. The bartender, standing to my right with her back 3/4 to me, pours the last couple drops from a Dewars bottle in a glass. I figure she's going to get a new bottle, but no. She turns a little more, blocking my view, so I get up to see what she's doing, which was finishing it off with Jim Beam. She gives me the drink and I say "Well, this should be interesting."
                            "Huh? What do you mean?"
                            "I saw you put Jim Beam in there after the Dewars ran out."
                            "No I didn't"
                            "I saw it."
                            "Ok, you want something else? How about Chivas?"
                            I say fine, but this is worse. It's sickly sweet and tastes like a Seven and Seven. It's utterly disgusting. No way it was Chivas. I didn't finish, paid and left. No use arguing, I had plane to catch.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: wontonton

                              The same thing happened to me at the airport. They had Mandarin Napoleon so I ordered one. But after the bartender poured it, it was splashing around in the glass way too much to be a cordial. It moved like neutral spirit. It was like MN lite.

                            2. Definitely illegal to switch (at least in some states).

                              When I used to tend bar I would occasionally condense bottles of the same liquor if I found multiples behind my bar (ie pour a half-used bottle of Jameson into another half used bottle of Jameson). I was told by the owner that even doing that could be considered illegal.

                              14 Replies
                              1. re: white light

                                I would think "marrying" bottles is illegal most everywhere. It certainly is here in California. Doesn't stop bartenders from the practice, of course. And it really is benign when you're refilling a bottle with the exact same spirit. But, bartenders aren't the most scrupulous lot, so any refilling of bottles is prohibited, presumably to prevent the shady stuff previously mentioned, and probably because the IRS has some issues with it as well.

                                1. re: white light

                                  yes it is illegal to do marry bottles as it is considered a form of adulteration. many establishments will nonetheless marry 2 bottles of the same exact spirit in order to condense bottles, as you say, & they do this when the customers are gone, or in a back room. i tended bar 10 years, and in some real dives as well as nicer places, and never ever saw an establishment put a low-grade lq into the bottle of a higher-end spirit in order to charge premium prices for selling swill-- except in one establishment, interestingly, also in chicago.

                                  hmm. "bartenders aren't the most scrupulous lot"-- any bt i know would never think of selling well lq for premium price;

                                  1. re: soupkitten

                                    My experience is the same as yours. I've tendered bar and I hace friends who are also bartenders and none of us have ever heard of any establishment putting well liquor into higher end bottles.

                                    1. re: KTinNYC

                                      My congratulations on associating with such uniformly honest people. I have been involved with in foodservice off and on for a couple decades in the SF bay area, and can name several prestigious, high profile businesses where the owner/restauranteur would not think twice about pouring generic liquor into an expensive bottle and charging the customers as such.

                                      It makes my heart heavy to accuse people as such, but I have seen it personally more than once. Note that I am accusing the owner/manager, not the BT.

                                      Reality check: wine/liquor is the most profitable part of ANY restaurant. So, maximizing price and minimizing cost gets you more bang for your buck than any other aspect you can control. So, it is not surprising that this aspect is the most prone to abuse.

                                      1. re: jerry i h

                                        The funny part is that I know some really unscrupulous owners and this is still something they don't do. I suspect in the long run it may not pay off because the word will spread and you will lose business. As you said the markup (minimally 4x) for liquor is incredible to begin with, why risk killing the golden goose?

                                        Don't customers notice that the seal never has be broken on the new bottle of liquor?

                                        1. re: KTinNYC

                                          i agree. i worked for a place that laundered money for the shanghai triad and skimmed off the workers' union dues to support one of the owners' gambling habit. they weren't the most "scrupulous lot" in other words. pouring swill into the chopin bottle was something that absolutely wasn't done. they made enough profit off the booze, no need to outright cheat the customer in this reprehensible way. also the penalties for adulterating liquor are very high and can include an establishments' permanently losing their liquor license. you also will doubtless lose your regular customer base, which is your bread & butter. not even the diviest dive bar i ever worked at would do this to increase their liquor margins by a few percentage points.

                                    2. re: soupkitten

                                      "bartenders aren't the most scrupulous lot"-- If this practice is happening with any frequency, I'd bet a dollar that it's more an issue of the owner than of the bartender...the bartender wants to keep his guests happy at all costs, while the owner may be pinching pennies.

                                      1. re: Dave and Stuff

                                        Just wondering, I saw a bartender refilling a 750 bottle from a 1.75L of the same brand, so it was not a substitution, but just putting the same stuff in the smaller bottle. Is this considered unethical/illegal at all?

                                        1. re: ed1066

                                          I live in california, and here it is illegal. Any marrying of bottled spirits (whether the same brand or not) is.

                                          1. re: ed1066

                                            yes this is still considered adulteration and it is illegal in every state, i believe. however most bar staff, owners, & customers would probably not consider it "unethical" in the same way as substituting one liquor for another. the bt may not think s/he's doing anything wrong by refilling the lq bottle with the same spirit, but the bar could still be fined for adulterating liquor, & s/he could presumably be fired for the oversight.

                                      2. re: white light

                                        Do you think the same laws apply to wine? I was at an upscale restaurant around 11:30 AM so it was still fairly quiet. I was waiting on my date so I sat at the bar and chit-chatted with the bartender/waitress. I was her only customer. She was not hiding the fact that she was combining a lot of open bottles of wine into one.
                                        My first or second experience eating at this restaurant saw me asking the waiter to bring me a fresh glass of white wine. It tasted like it was half water. It had little flavor or zip to it. Later, I knew why.

                                        1. re: white light

                                          It is illegal to re-fill a liquor bottle with *anything* in most states. "Marrying" bottles (with the very same spirit, of course) is a necessary evil in bars that offer a wide variety of labels, because typically the bottles are litres, and they'll go through a couple of each - every night. Marrying just guarantees that the bartenders coming on shift don't begin their shift with bottles that're gonna be empty quickly.

                                          Bartenders, unless they're *owners,* too, don't have a vested interest in refilling. The extra profit's going to the house. So unless there's collusion don't blame the bartenders.

                                          1. re: shaogo

                                            In my example, I watched a bartender pouring bottles together that were over half empty bottles of whites from the day before. Dribs and drabs. Bottles that were corked or not corked? Anyway, I just had shitty glasses of white there. When I complained the next glass was from a new bottle and tasted fine.

                                        2. The telltale sign is the price the establishment charges. This day and age if you order a premium liquor (Macallan, Bombay Sapphire, Cognacs, Grey Goose, etc,) and they charge you $6.00 a drink (give or take) you are not getting what you order. A bottle of Mac is $60.00, if a bar is careful pouring two ounce servings, they'll get fifteen drinks out of the bottle. Most bars work 3X minimum mark up. do the math.

                                          1. For what ever reason, I really do think that sometimes this happens. Now, as far Macallan goes, there aren't too many bars that stock Macallan where I live. It's more like Glenlivet, Dewar's, Chivas and JW. But try to get into any other single malts and it pretty much has to be a "Scottish or Irish" Pub type of bar.

                                            Anyway, I was at a restaurant about a year ago and I ordered a Bombay and Tonic. I drink Bombay a lot at home and I know what it tastes like. Of course my ratio's were going to be different then the bar's because I add a lot more Gin. But never the less, I wound up getting a crappy gin instead of Bombay and I knew this without a doubt. When I confronted the bar tender, he apologized and said that he had made a mistake and then proceeded to make me a "real" Bombay and Tonic right there in front of me where I could see him.

                                            I can see how at your average run of the mill restaurant, a bartender might get into the bad habit of using cheap liquor instead of premium liquor because most people probably won't know the difference. But then again, most people wouldn't specify a brand name of liquor unless they knew the difference in taste. Especially if it were ordered straight. I would think that if I were a bar tender and a customer came up and ordered a Macallan 12 without hesitating, that it would be a pretty sure bet that they knew what Macallan 12 tastes like.

                                            And then.... even if you do try to pass a cheaper Scotch off as Macallan, what the heck are you going to use? About the closest cheaper Scotch that might be able to fool anyone would be Famous Grouse, but if you campared the two side by side, the Macallan obiously lacks the grain alcohol element and is a lot more sherried. But you never know.... especially if a restaurant is losing money and is trying to stay afloat.

                                            8 Replies
                                            1. re: theginguy

                                              in most saloons the tonic from the soda gun destroys the gin. don't blame the barkkeep, he's taking orders from above. another telltale sign is that all the name brand bottles are always filled to the top. biggest culprits: grey goose and other expensive vodkas (the easiest to get away with; once it hits juice or soda, nobody could tell the difference), scotches and jack daniels. gin doesn't get played around with too much 'cause it's not as popular.

                                              1. re: byrd

                                                Jack Daniels? Has anyone really tried to get played for Jack Daniels before? Quite frankly, I think that the charcoaly taste (which I don't happen to like) can't be duplicated by anything I've ever tasted. I even realized I don't like the Jack Daniel's barbecue sauces because of the Jack Daniel's flavor.

                                                1. re: Xaga

                                                  Even Williams is a lot like JD and cheaper.

                                              2. re: theginguy

                                                When I order Mac or Bushmills or another name brand, I ask for it neat with a glass of ice on the side. I always taste the drink first to make sure it's what I've requested.

                                                I caught a bartender in Chicago substituting another Irish whiskey for Bushmill's (even though they had a bottle of Bushmill's on the shelf.) He said it was "a mistake" and brought me a fresh one, but I wonder how many people would notice.

                                                1. re: brendastarlet

                                                  Probably not as many as you would think.

                                                2. re: theginguy

                                                  if you order a premium vodka in a Greyhound, you will not be able to tell

                                                  1. re: theginguy

                                                    this has happened to me too! I guessed it was because I am young, and the bartender thought I wouldn't notice the difference between Beefeater and Bombay... please! If I specifically order it, it must mean that I know what it does(and doesnt) taste like.

                                                    1. re: alixium

                                                      Certainly not so, especially if you're a young person. Or, you're not normal...
                                                      I order one or two (scotches), just because I remember them from their names, including something like my first name in them. Then, I order one or two more. (drum roll, please) Go figure; I'm 62.
                                                      What about the influences of advertising? Grey Goose or the flavored Absolut vodkas are a good example. You have to start somewhere and you often order it because you think it will taste good, not because you know exactly what it tastes like.
                                                      It's taken me a while to discern some of the brands of scotch, by local style and then there's the nuances (different aging/different woods/different flavorings), of brands within those varieties.
                                                      My favorite right now: 16 YO Lagavulin, a slightly sweet and smokey Islay (pronounced EYE-luh) scotch.

                                                  2. I rarely will order anything other than beer or wine at a restaurant unless I am sitting at the bar. Even with a mixed drink off their menu, you'll get better liquor served to you (in front of you) than the same cocktails that they'll send out to the floor with the servers. Also, knowing how carefully they measured and stirred, etc. tells me whether I should refrain from ordering another drink or returning again.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: yarm

                                                      As far as beer goes, I've been served an unknown generic macrobrew in place of a local wheat beer that I know well. I tasted it before sending it back, but that was really unnecessary, as I could see through the beer. The wheat beer I ordered is unfiltered and cloudy.

                                                      The restaurant insisted it was what I ordered but eventually caved (without admitting fault) and brought me a new (different) beer.

                                                    2. Okay everyone, let's slowly back away from the bartender, put down that ice pick and remove the menacing scowl from your face. Something like 99.9% of the time you are getting what you order.

                                                      Let's twist this around for a second. Think about how many drinks you've had where the product WAS what you ordered. Now think of all the bars in the world pouring the drinks people actually request. That is the denominator and that is a really, really, really big number.

                                                      Now, I am not suggesting that shenanigans don't happen--I know they do from my 16 years in the wine and spirits business. But while everyone has a story, the vast majority of the time drinks are made with what people ask for.

                                                      Moreover, there are a number of benign, yet very real, things that can make your drink not taste the way you expect.
                                                      --Depending on numerous factors, a bottle of spirit will maintain it's "freshness" for around 6 months after being opened. While it won't oxidise like wine, it absolutely can change and some of the subtle layers of complexity are the first to go. Add any direct sunlight (I know, in a bar right?...you'd be surprised) and that changes things too.

                                                      --Glassware, ice, dishwashing detergent etc. can all impact the flavor of a drink. Ideally we'd all get perfectly clean, high-end glassware (not warm from just coming out of the Hobart), ice that-- at minimum--came from filtered water and so on. But just becuase some parts of service aren't ideal still doesn't mean they are giving you Ancient Age when you ordered Pappy Van Winkle.

                                                      --And, believe it or not, your tongue itself takes days off. More accurately, your tongue and nose take days off. Organoleptic fatigue plagues this country in ways swine flu only dreams of. Ask anyone who tastes for a living and they will tell you there are just some days it is not on.

                                                      And to close, a quick word about marrying bottles. If some one can show me a state where it is legal to do so, I will buy you a bottle of Courvoiser XO. It happens all the time and I am not particularly concerned about like going into another bottle of like, but it is almost, definately, probably, without out too much question, totally f-ing illegal. Everywhere.

                                                      Oh yeah, one more thing, I get the red-ass like you wouldn't believe when I order any beer that is supposed to be pushed with a nitrogen mix and is just done with the same CO 2 as the rest of the taps. Furious.

                                                      4 Replies
                                                      1. re: ellaystingray

                                                        Good post. Have had tap problem locally in the Bay Area more than once especially with a locally brewed pilsner which gives off an almost urine-like nose. Yes, sickening when you bring up the glass for a swallow.

                                                        I e-mailed the brewmaster who indicated that when the lines at the bar were improperly cleaned the the 'fragrance' is the chemical reation. He sent me a couple of their glasses. Happened twice more at two other pubs so I've given up on the brewer.

                                                        1. re: ganzi

                                                          Agree - good post. Nice mini-primer for those drink regularly.
                                                          HOWEVER - beg to differ in the strongest possible terms. Being the lowest guy on the totem pole, I often find myself scrubbing griddles and hosing down rubber mats at 1am in the morning in various restaurants over time. It is at this time that I sometimes witness out-and-out cheating. Viz:
                                                          Customers ordering and paying for cocktails specifying a premium spirit, but getting a pour out of the generic bottle,
                                                          Barbacks/managers/owners filling a bottle of fancy, premium liquor from a bottle generic, supermarket spirits.
                                                          The bar generates more profit than all of the rest of the restaurant put together, so it is not that surprising that cheating occasionally occurs here. If you are a veteran drinker, and your drink tastes “off”, it is not that unthinkable that you are being cheated.

                                                          1. re: jerry i h

                                                            Talk about cheating... the Casinos on the strip must think that drunk gamblers are stupid because I remember getting comped with "Patron" at Bellagio that was just a shade away from being bonafide gasoline... I mean yes Patron is a mediocre Tequila... but this was BAD.

                                                        2. re: ellaystingray

                                                          Not liquor, but I've had absolutely bubbly red wine and an off taste. Bubbles that would not go away on the inside perimeter of the glass; not tiny ones either! My SO, across the table had much less of a problem (same wine). I asked for another glass and complained about soap residue. They really didn't care. I was not compensated for the half full glass that was taken away.

                                                        3. Just an observation: I drink a lot of gin, Gilbey's in a martini, Bombay Sapphire alone over ice. I don't think I could ever be fooled if someone subbed out an imitator for Bombay. But put Gilbeys with dry vermouth and all the secret little touches different restaurants add to make a martini it's own, and I'm lost. At this point, I'm only asking for a good drink.

                                                          A question: if your married same branded gin from bottle to bottle, wouldn't you bust up the botanicals? I though a good drink maker stirred gin martinis to avoid bruising the botanicals.

                                                          5 Replies
                                                          1. re: RedTop

                                                            "Stirred not shaken" makes for good movie dialogue, but I tdon't buy into the idea of "bruising" the gin...it's a bit of a silly croc.

                                                            1. re: The Professor

                                                              I am not sure what bruising means when referred to gin, but I certainly prefer stirring for any clear cocktail, to maintain crystalline beauty. Shaking introduces little chips of ice and air bubbles and definitely affects the mouthfeel. Some may like martinis shaken that way, but I only shake cocktails that include fruit juices and/or egg whites.

                                                              1. re: The Professor

                                                                Yeah, I've always thought the "bruising gin" thing was a crock. Shaking is really about two things: aeration and appearance. Most bartenders advise stirring drinks that are spirits (like martinis) and shaking drinks that have mixers, like fruit juice.

                                                                There's a great explanation here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0qirrX...

                                                                1. re: The Professor

                                                                  It's easy enough to test for yourself; just make two otherwise identical martinis, shake one, and stir the other.

                                                                  A thoroughly shaken martini will look and taste different than one that's been stirred. When first poured, the stirred martini will look limpid and smooth, with nothing more than maybe a sheen of essential oils on top. The shaken martini will be less clear, with tiny chips of ice dimpling the surface. After a few seconds, those ice chips melt, and the taste of the shaken martini will become less intense.

                                                                  "Bruising" may be a silly name for it, but the reason for the difference is simple enough - as kenito notes, shaking a drink adds air and ice. Is it a huge difference? No. But it is perceptible.

                                                              2. Chinon00

                                                                MacAllan actually produces 3 different 12 year old Scotch's (Sherry Oak, Fine Oak & Elegancia)... is it possible that the bar was offering the Fine Oak version instead?

                                                                OTOH... the Edrington Group (which bought the distillery a few years back) is up to all kinds of brand positioning shenanigans. Not all MacAllan 12 year Sherry Oak is created equal... the quality varies from cask to cask... in the past the inferior casks would be sold to produce the "Famous Grouse" blend... since Edrignton Group has been busy creating new, more upscale lines of MacAllan, and the mainstreaming of the basic MacAllan 12 year... it might be possible that they are now using a higher percentage of inferior casks on the MacAllan 12 Year Sherry Oak (which is now on the low end of the premium spirit spectrum) and reserving a greater proportion of what used to go in the MacAllan 12 year... for the more "Exceptional Cask", greater aged lines.

                                                                In summary... you might have just been tasting the newer, dumbed down, "mass produced" version of MacAllan 12.

                                                                3 Replies
                                                                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                  Ah, I know these things happen but didn't know about this. Over 20 years ago I bought my soon-to-be husband a bottle of 25 yo MacAllan. It lasted us about 18 months. We would share a tot after a nice evening out. Then a few years later we visited the distillery. At that time, they didn'thave public tours and I arranged it in advance. Pre-email so it was faxing back and forth. It was a memorable time. I'll enjoy the memory anyway.

                                                                  1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                    Macallan also bottles a 12-year-old whisky with a Trader Joe's private label. It may be the same as one of the others you've listed, or it may be something entirely different.

                                                                    1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                      Sure.. the point is that MacAllan as a distillery brews lots of whiskey that doesn't end up under its brand. In the past the lower quality casks would be sold off... the average stuff would get Aged 12 years for their bread & butter product & the exceptional casks would be reserved for greater aged products.

                                                                      Because the whole spirits market is moving way upstream on much bigger volumes... whether you are talking Tequila, Whiskey, Bourbon or Sake.... many distillers are working hard to come up with brands that support the higher price points that consumers demand. In other words (outside of this global recession) consumers have been saying... I don't want a high quality, consistent product for $30 to $40.. I want you to give me a good reason to spend $100 to $500.. rationalize it by through the product, bottle & marketing... spirits are definitely a high fashion item.

                                                                      ... AND I would argue / hypothesize that the well regarded distilleries / brands are giving consumers "a good reason" by gradually eroding the quality in the existing $30 to $40 brands to help the $100 brand distinguish itself a little easier... risky I know.. but it would explain why so many previously decent brands just don't seem to be as good as they used to.

                                                                  2. I wouldn't be surprised if Gin or Vodka get refilled with cheaper stuff, few would know the difference. But since single malt scotch is very often served neat and people know how their favorite tastes, it would take a very foolish bartender to replace it with something else. I've never had this occur.

                                                                    Duke of Sandwich

                                                                    48 Replies
                                                                    1. re: dukeofsandwich

                                                                      I like the LA Whiskey site!
                                                                      I made exactly the same point last night about vodkas, tequila and also mixed drinks. I had margaritas made with Don Julio Silver and Grand Mariner the other day. They might have been able to fool me with lesser quality ingredients. They were really tasty though! To me, when you flavor anything you've created a whole new scenario. Or did it taste off because of the ice?

                                                                      SO was just saying, "what kind of place would be doing a switcheroo?" It probably won't be happening at your favorite watering hole, that's for sure, or an upscale restaurant's bar. It might happen where a lot of tourists pass through, like some dive bar in NOLA. Point being, why would you go back to a place that you think did this to you?

                                                                      1. re: Scargod

                                                                        Unless your favorite watering hole is charging ten bucks a martini or margarita, everybody's favorite watering hole is the place that is the major culprit. Ownership has to pay for those two for one happy hours and all those free drinks your favorite bartender feeds you one way or the other.

                                                                        1. re: byrd

                                                                          It's not something I would know about since my bar is at home. The only bars I've been to more than once are in my favorite restaurants or a couple of airports. I just can't see someone having a favorite bar, they go to time and again, where they know they are being ripped off. Yours seems a somewhat jaundiced view.
                                                                          As a non-bar person and a person who does not like casinos either, I am not out looking for happy hour specials, but it seems there could be legitimate two-fers to get people in and eat, gamble or? I would think watered-down or short drinks might be more likely.

                                                                          1. re: byrd

                                                                            Your math is all wrong. Happy hour prices are almost never on call liquor just on rail liquor so I'm still going to make a profit. I can get 20 pours out of a 750ml bottle that cost me $8 tops. Even if I "give away" every other drink and give you a generous pour of one and a half shots per drink I can pour 15 drinks per bottle. If I charge $5 per drink I still gross $35 per bottle, a 4x markup. People stay beyond happy hour, I get to charge them full price, others only want premium liquor, I get to charge them full price. It's a money maker for me one way or the other if I'm a bar owner.

                                                                            1. re: KTinNYC

                                                                              I totally agree, when I said ten bucks a drink I was refering to call not rack liquor. r.e; post above with I want my margarita with "Grand Marnier".

                                                                              1. re: byrd

                                                                                Well you are painting with a pretty broad brush by accusing "everybody's favorite watering hole" as the "major culprit" for switching rail liquor for call liquor. I have friends that have worked at probably over a dozen bars in Manhattan and none of them have reported owners that cheated their customers by switching liquor. Only one of these places sell drinks in the price range you quoted, all the rest can sell premium liquor in the $6 - $8 range.

                                                                                1. re: KTinNYC

                                                                                  A lot of times, the bartenders are more guilty than the owners.
                                                                                  Here's one of the many telltale signs: If you walk into your favorite saloon when it opens and see all the premium brands behind the bar coincidentally filled to the top....

                                                                                  1. re: byrd

                                                                                    How does it possibly benefit a bartender to go out of her way to come in early to set up just so he can secretly switch rail liquor for call? She doesn't profit from deceiving you. In fact she would be hurting herself by giving you an inferior product in case she is called on it. Unless I'm missing something why in the world would a bartender switch liquor on their own volition?

                                                                                    1. re: KTinNYC

                                                                                      I'll come clean. Three of the last four restaurants I have worked at poured well liquor into call bottles, empty at time of pouring. I saw it done at all three.

                                                                                      1. re: wew

                                                                                        If it's true then go ahead and name names.

                                                                                        1. re: KTinNYC

                                                                                          I realize
                                                                                          - I am an anonymous poster (and for a while) and as such my unsupported statements do not carry much weight
                                                                                          - People who are fair and honest will and should be sensitive for their reputations
                                                                                          The restaurants are all four of them closed so I'm not sure how naming them will help people in this discussion.

                                                                                          1. re: wew

                                                                                            maybe your testimonial will encourage drinkers who value the quality of their spirits purchase to:

                                                                                            1) purchase premium cocktails from establishments that are *established*-- not closed down in 6 months or so for various reasons
                                                                                            2) observe their bartender and the bottles the barback brings in
                                                                                            3) think twice about the purchase of alcoholic beverages in circus establishments, tourist traps, and cities where liquor laws are easily/frequently skirted.

                                                                                            i've still never seen this occur except for in one establishment while on vacation (chicago). it may occur in tourist traps and circus cities but most establishments, and the bts they employ, rely heavily on their regulars. i can't even imagine doing this, it's completely & totally unethical, along with short-shots and watering down the booze. shame on any establishment that does this, they deserve to get shut down.

                                                                                            1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                              Unfortunately, especially in today's economy, a lot of places resort to this as a matter of survival.
                                                                                              Did I ever tell you the story about the bartender that charged you for a martini , rang up a soda and pocketed the change?

                                                                                              1. re: byrd


                                                                                                these days, bartenders are on camera, luv. smile :)

                                                                                                1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                  So you really believe the manager after working a ten hour shift (eight hour shifts are fantasy) sits and looks at the video for ten hours and then goes home.
                                                                                                  Cameras are a deterent. not a cure.

                                                                                                  1. re: byrd

                                                                                                    if you're a crooked bartender, and you're on camera, you're going to get caught. add to that the "spotter"-- the bar's verstion of the secret shopper. . . & a crooked bt might be able to pull off a scam for a month or two, but s/he will be caught eventually! bts handle thousands of dollars of the establishment's money nightly. of course someone watches them! thinking that nobody's watching the bar-till tapes is a bit like thinking nobody's really looking through "the eye in the sky" in vegas, or watching the camera tapes on every single bank teller. in order to keep their job (tips), bts *must* be honest--and prove it on live camera-- so the vast majority of them are. if you've had a bad experience, that's rough, but you don't get to go around disparaging everybody in the mix. would you risk a well-paying job in order to skim $5 or $10? why would a bt then? doesn't make sense.

                                                                                                    1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                      I know for a fact at least 2 trendy bars / clubs in L.A.'s Sunset Strip switch alcohol... management condones it & both the bar & bartenders profit from it. They have two SKUS in the POS for higher end Vodkas (which is where they mostly get away with it).

                                                                                                      The more egregious example is the place that sells the "premium" vodkas for $300 in their bottle (along with flasks of Cranberry Juice, fixings etc.,) but really pours Smirnoff in them... they are only saving like $8 out of a $300 ticket (and the bar & staff split the gain)... but some people are greedy I guess.

                                                                                                      1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                                                        I'm not saying that switching of call liquor for premium liquor never happens but it's much rarer than most people think. A bar that is trying to make an extra $8 per bottle is probably economically distressed and I doubt they will be around for very long.

                                                                                                        1. re: KTinNYC

                                                                                                          No... these places on the Sunset Strip mint money. My insider was making $1k in Tips every weekend during the Spring & Summer. Just plain greed and the confidence that most people order expensive brands without really knowing what they taste like.

                                                                                                          1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                                                            Well, there's that and the fact that Smirnoff actually tastes marginally better than Grey Goose.

                                                                                                            Did I ever tell you the story about the bartender who had a bogus example to illustrate every bogus point he was trying to make?

                                                                                              2. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                Not that I disagree with #1, because I have mentioned that I usually only drink at my known and frequented places (usually these are not taco stands), which I thinks speaks to their likelihood of messing with drinks, but it somewhat flies in the face of true Chowhounding if you just go with the known quantity.
                                                                                                This has been a very enlightening thread. I've never given it much thought before. I have had some awful margaritas so I tend to stay with top shelf-freshly made ones; blaming the others on cheap mixers. You can't say that for a martini. I wouldn't want to drink at certain (unknown), bars based on what's being said.

                                                                                                1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                  Well, I would consider the Waldorf-Astoria established, and cocktails there were once stellar. But a bartender in the Bull & Bear made my martini around the other side of the bar, and then out of the corner of my eye I saw him drizzle in my call gin on top of the drink. That looked incredibly suspicious to me but of course I couldn't see him when he was mixing. Another night there a bartender made a sidecar with something like Rose's Lemon Mix. He apologized, but the drink was still sweet and horrible. Needless to say, I haven't been back.

                                                                                          2. re: KTinNYC

                                                                                            Bartending 101: The more free drinks I give out the more tips, I make. Most places or owners will check the liquor cost %, by pouring cheap stuff, i could give more free drinks away and keep my % kosher.
                                                                                            Did I ever tell you the story about the bartender who would always stop at the liquoe store before his shift began, and the person didn't drink alcohol?

                                                                                            1. re: byrd

                                                                                              You started by accusing owners of switching liquor to increase profits and now it's bartenders being greedy but I'll continue to play along.

                                                                                              Bartenders that give away too many drinks, even if it's the liquor they supposedly bring in themselves, will not keep their jobs for long. If the typical ring for a shift is $1000 and you get a bartender who consistently rings less then that then the bartender is obviously not doing their job well and will get sacked.

                                                                                              1. re: KTinNYC

                                                                                                The best deterrent for an owner, which very few follow, is to prosecute an employee that is caught stealing to the fullest extent of the law. Believe it or not, even in a city as big as the apple, the restaurant community is pretty tight knit, and word gets around which is a good (wink, wink) or bad place to work.
                                                                                                As far as drinking is concerned, your best bet as far as kosher liquor, is the bars at the big national chains like Fridays, Houstons, Applebees, etc.
                                                                                                Remember, I said drinking not eating.
                                                                                                Did I ever tell you the story about the bartender who'se buddy gave him a friendly slap on the back and he broke his water like a ten month pregnant woman.

                                                                                                1. re: byrd

                                                                                                  I suspect I know more bar owners and bartenders then you do and I know that there is enough money to be made so that none of them have done any of the things you've described.

                                                                                                  The stories you tell sound apocryphal at best.

                                                                                                  1. re: KTinNYC

                                                                                                    oh come on KT, we've all seen those bartenders with wooden legs and hunchbacks siphoning booze into secret compartments inside their clothing while they skim fifties out of the till in full view of all of the customers, their co-workers and the cameras. ;-P

                                                                                                    the nationwide conspiracy of evil bartenders has hacked all the POS systems so that the computer systems can't detect the tell-tale signs of skimming ;-P

                                                                                                    and every bar owner in the world is pouring white wolf vodka into the grey goose bottle, yet the uber-premium lq brands miraculously stay in business, the bars don't get shut down for fraud and liquor adulteration, and the bar owners are making *so* much money from the bait-and-switch scheme that they don't care what their employees are doing, they just put the cameras around the bar for decorative purposes ;-P ROTFL

                                                                                                    oh and wait for it. . . the best place to get a good drink is an applebees or another chain place.

                                                                                                    wow. talk about different strokes. now i really have seen it all.

                                                                                                    1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                      I was going to leave that chain comment alone but now that you bring it up....EVERYONE knows that big multinationa companiesl would never be deceitful. That never happens, never, ever!

                                                                                                    2. re: KTinNYC

                                                                                                      I'm out of the family business now for quite a few years, but I'm third generation restaurant business. In my time i've owned/managed/worked table cloth restaurants, diners, bars, niteclubs, fast food etc., in the five boros and out in the island from suffolk to nassau.
                                                                                                      Did I ever tell you the story about the bar owner who basically ran a kids joint (this is when the drinking age was still eighteen) that advertized happy hour 3-5 all the draught beer you could drink ten bucks. He had three or four taps (heineken, bud, miller lite, molsons) and all the taps led to a keg of schmidts in the basement. This guy was a real character.

                                                                                                      1. re: byrd

                                                                                                        yeah yeah yeah and mafia lenny came in for his protection money every thursday. . . we aren't talking about crooked mob hangouts on long island prior to 1980, any more than we're talking about miss kitty's saloon on gunsmoke. nowadays there are all sorts of laws and regs that actually get enforced. the inspector doesn't need to be standing in the bar to see a violation happen, a digital cellphone picture is plenty to kick off an investigation. . . things like computerized POS systems, *credit cards*, digital camera security systems that didn't exist a full generation ago. . . these little details have changed the industry significantly. you just can't be totally shady like back in "the good ol' days" anymore :)

                                                                                                        the crap you're describing is stuff bars get shut down for now, pure and simple. bar owners are businesspeople and don't adulterate their beverages-- because they want to keep their clientele and stay in business, and they don't want to go through the incredibly huge, expensive legal hassle of temporarily or permanently losing their liquor license. they mark up the booze enough to make a good profit, they don't need to switch out liquor bottles. and trust me, most establishments keep a very tight ship when it comes to inventory, overpours, and what the bt is actually ringing on the till.

                                                                                                        not saying reprehensible liquor adulteration didn't happen 30 years ago in nyc, not saying it never happens nowadays on bourbon street or on the l.a. strip or in some horrible glossy tourist trap in tijuana but if you can't see someone wearing a feathered headdress from your bar stool, chances are it's not happening where you are. folks don't need to take my word for it-- they can just sit at the bar in their favorite joint and observe the bt and the barback. sit there long enough and the bt will crack (audibly crack the seal on) new bottles of premium lq, and the barback will come around and probably make a list of the empty bottles, toss the empties into the recycling, and go bring the fresh, sealed bottles from the liquor room. rinse and repeat. i'd be surprised if one patron out of 500 catches their fave establishment doing anything other than honest business.

                                                                                                        1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                          all you have to do is go to the cornell u. restaurant/hotel school website and see how many web pages are devoted to theft of all kinds in the food hospitality business.
                                                                                                          The NY SLA was a lot more strict with this years ago than now, now their primary enforcement is geared more to underage drinking.

                                                                                                          1. re: byrd

                                                                                                            sorry that you can't seem to imagine any honest hospitality business besides applebees, or imagine that a hospitality worker would choose to make their living honestly rather than being a common scam artist. my experience seems to be completely opposite what yours has been-- good servers and bts can make enough dough on tips, there is no reason for them to steal-- unless everyone is inherently a bad person, which seems to be what you are saying. is that why your family got out of the biz? thievery/legal issues?

                                                                                                            1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                              Agreed. Not saying the old switcheroo never happens, but I've never seen it at any establishment I've worked at. In my almost 15 years experience with the loose-lipped restaurant crowd, I've never known a place in my area to do this.

                                                                                                          2. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                            As a CFO who has seen a few things, your confidence in computerized POS systems & credit card transactions is amusing & so endearing. Granted most people get caught after some point. But I remember when I was a lowly Assistant Controller working for a company that got milked for 100,000 pounds of an agricultural commodity... under camera surveillance & everything... most company's internal controls are a joke to say the least.

                                                                                                            1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                                                              i actually don't need any condescension about my "confidence" in control systems. i've caught an awful lot of scammers myself by doing the cross checks over 10 years. hmm. janie rang way more sodas than anybody else tonight. and last night. and here it is over two weeks. now let's check her bar's liquor inventory, now here it is on the tape, and an independent confirm from the spotter. you cheat, you get caught, you lose. when you have 4 or 5 control systems running at once, it doesn't matter where the scam gets picked up first, it's just going to be confirmed by the other systems when it does.

                                                                                                              there are always scammers who are attracted to "easy money," illusion or not. the checks and balances in a properly-run bar are probably more effective than the controls in a commodity company because 1) the bar expects some percentage of money handlers to try some sort of scam-- like an office expects that one or two employees to try and steal office supplies 2) the people observing the control systems know what to look for.

                                                                                                              if we want to talk about war stories in general, & co-workers over the years who have run a scam in particular, i've got plenty of stories-- i'm not naive in that sense. i've known folks who've run pretty good scams, that they got away with for months. a lot of others who were caught pretty much immediately. the overwhelming majority of scams that are run in the bar are on the sliding a drink here & there, or the overpour-for-increased-gratuity, or the abuse-of-the-comp-tab variety. it amounts to the employee attempting to rip off either the house or her/his co-workers in some way, and it's petty and wrong, but *customers* sure aren't harmed-- and the people get caught and fired and guess what, word travels fast and they can't get work in the bar biz anymore-- & hey don't even start, because no matter how big the town is, the bar biz is small.

                                                                                                              okay now, here's why the real bartenders are getting a little miffed at this thread: the egregious crap you and the other poster are alleging occurs, has to do with bartenders maliciously and intentionally switching out premium liquors for rotgut, serving this to the patron, and pocketing the price difference-- with the knowledge, consent, and abetment of the establishment they work at, no less! i am definitely saying that this doesn't happen. the house sure doesn't stand to gain anything, so why would they allow it? & bartenders are completely dependent on their regulars and would *much* sooner cut off a toe than do anything like this, they would lose their reputations and their livelihoods. people who work for tips generally try to do the very best job they are capable of, in order to get good tips. that doesn't include swapping out liquors, spitting in food, or the rest of that whole line of urban myth. the vast majority of hospitality folks are good & honest people who do take pleasure in serving people decently.

                                                                                                              if your good buddy is a scam artist working for a corrupt tourist trap on the l.a. strip (catering to tourists they will see 1 night and 1 night only), or if you knew the original change game guy from nyc, or if you hang out with the lady who sets up the monday morning bar-drop muggings, great & i hope they buy you a bottle before they buy you a drink--check the seal. but you don't get to muckrake & broad-brush the whole industry of good folks who keep their jobs for years because of a couple of malicious criminals. that's just unbelievably lame.

                                                                                                              1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                                That was awesome, soupkitten. Thanks for putting it so well.

                                                                                                                As to your point of bartenders not wanting to adulterate their liquor, this is all too true. There is nothing to gain and everything to lose. I was recently watching the HBO series The Wire and even drug dealers know that if you sell bad product the customers go someplace else the next time. Bars are not so rare that patrons can't find another.

                                                                                                                1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                                  I admire your honest, whole-hearted defense of mostly honest employees and owners. In fact, you are correct, but not ALL of the time. There are, as in any avenues of life and human activity, a small minority of dishonest people who give a whole category a bad name (e.g. one rotten apple affects the whole barrel).
                                                                                                                  Fact: some credit card scams are run by cashiers/bartenders/waiters who will secretly run customers' credit card through a scanning machine during their shifts. What makes you think that these same people are not above "cheating" on high cost beverages? Repeating: this is not a comment of ALL such employees/owners, but a small, but persistent minority?
                                                                                                                  Are you willing to admit that at least a tiny portion of such people engage in the awful activities as accused in this thread??

                                                                                                                  1. re: jerry i h

                                                                                                                    <<Are you willing to admit that at least a tiny portion of such people engage in the awful activities as accused in this thread??>>

                                                                                                                    are you serious? i'd have to believe that it happens, and i don't! it's like "admitting" that a small percentage of bartenders sit in their basement at night grinding up glass into tiny particles, then freeze them into ice cubes to slip into their customers' drinks! it jest don't make no sense!

                                                                                                                    do you think i'm trying to cover something up? the other bartenders too? paint hopitality workers as some sainted underclass? no, not at all. i have acknowledged that there are dishonest people in the world. i've caught them and fired them, and the fact is, it's a far smaller percentage of folks in the bar/restaurant biz than some folks seem to assume. indeed, from where i'm sitting, restaurant folk are far more ethical and honest than folks in high finance & banking etc.--that's neither here nor there of course. . .

                                                                                                                    to your question, and i hope you can look at it logically and see my point: it goes back to "easy money." someone trying to run a scam in a restaurant *does* want to continue their employment-- that way they can continue to run their scam, agreed? so-- if a bartender *were* dishonest, and decided to pour a seagram's martini and try to pass it off as a sapphire one (pocketing the price difference). . . as far as the house is concerned, the $3 or $4 or $5 or whatever the bartender is trying to steal belongs not to the bt, not to the customer, but to the *house,* and the house is going to come down on that bt like a ton of bricks, and sh!tcan her/him. no more scam. it's $4 or so vs a lucrative tip job-- only a *very* great fool would take that risk, in full view of every customer sitting at the bar, co-workers in the restaurant, camera. even if the bt somehow had every confidence s/he could get away with this action(?), if customers caught on to this type of shenanigan, there goes the regular customer base, the tips, & the income-- it's a "couldn't catch me dead" situation, because the stakes are so very high, in such a competitive business, where if customers get a whiff of impropriety, it's as easy as walking out and going next door. the bar also stands to lose its liquor license and customer base, once again there's the bt's livelihood, *and* the establishment's incentive to quickly catch the scam and very quickly fire the perpetrator. . . no bar could stay in business and engage in these practices, as i've said repeatedly throughout my comments, unless it's one of a few "carnival" establishments that exist in a few areas in a few cities that exist to rob tourists blind.

                                                                                                                    please understand that there is no logical reason for a bartender to attempt this type of scam under normal circumstances. might as well skip the cloak-and-dagger stuff and spend your time actually making drinks and giving good service-- for the simple fact that you'll make as much money in tips as you would running around trying to rip people off-------- and you'll get to keep your job, even if you're a real piece of work as a person. . .

                                                                                                                    i've never done this in the 10 years i bartended, i've never worked with anyone who ever did this, i've never seen it happen (except once in chicago), i've never caught anyone trying to do it, and i've never even heard of it happening in my area, in *any* establishment, open or closed, not even in the scummiest dive bar on the wrong side of the tracks-- even scummy dive bars want to keep their customers. and, if the most crooked, embezzling, steal-from-the-co-workers-they-call-friends pieces of sh!t that i've encountered in my years and dh's years in hospitality (i can count them on my fingers btw) never even *considered* doing anything like this, then i guess no, i just don't believe it occurs. if you still think i'm trying to cover something up i guess i just don't know what to tell you.

                                                                                                                    1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                                      I've got no axe to grind on this. I am not in the restaurant biz. Byrd certainly seems to think the whole restaurant business is sleaze and chicanery, which I don't agree with. Like all things in life, there are good, decent well run places everywhere. And in fact, I am generally an optimist about human nature and thus believe that the majority of places probably run an honest bar.

                                                                                                                      That said, soupkitten is hopelessly naive. I am a business person myself. And there are dishonest employees and dishonest businesses everywhere. To say that there are NO establishments anywhere where the bartender and the restaurant are in cahoots in filling the Grey Goose bottle with Popov crap is just hopelessly out of touch with the realities of life, and human nature. Yes Mildred there are some bad people out there. And it ain't just tourist joints.

                                                                                                                      My gut is if you walk into the the 20 fanciest restaurants in any city at least one, and probably three or four, will be filling their Tanqueray bottle with Gordon's or even somthing cheaper.

                                                                                                                      In life my first reaction is to trust people, but it is always good to have an eye out for someone trying to pull a fast one. If you don't, you'll get ripped off, and someone with the attitude of soupkitten will probably not even know it.

                                                                                                                      1. re: StriperGuy

                                                                                                                        nope. the bartender relies on tips from the customers. the patron pays the bt to pour premium lq so the bt pours premium lq. s/he has absolutely nothing to gain from being "in cahoots" with the establishment, and her/his livelihood to lose. what do you think happens-- the bar manager says: "hey i'll pay you $7 an hour instead of $5.15 to cheat your customers." yeah. big incentive.

                                                                                                                        the establishment has nothing to lose of course. . . except its liquor license, which is what happens when you get caught adulterating liquor. some regions have very harsh penalties for doing this which are based on post-prohibition laws, when people were going blind and dying from wood alcohol poisoning. you lose the liquor license on a premium space for a month and you're out of business. it simply does not make sense for the house to switch out the liquors when you make a great margin off of liquor to begin with.

                                                                                                                        why don't you test your theory and interview the barbacks at the 20 fanciest restaurants you can think of? or, you can watch the liquor order come in on thursday, and see the premium bottles get unloaded without leaving your barstool. you can *watch* the barbacks ***throw the empty premium bottles into the recycling*** while you're sitting at the bar. if the premium liquor bottles are smashed at the bottom of a trash can, what is the establishment supposedly filling up with crackov? or do you want to believe there is some nationwide conspiracy of bartenders all doing a great sleight of hand trick right in front of all of their customers? are you one of those guys who thinks every bartender in america also sells drugs and pimps the cocktail servers?

                                                                                                                        still haven't met anybody who's heard of an establishment doing this, so that covers at least a 30 year period of time.

                                                                                                                        1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                                          I was thinking that if alcohol profits were the biggest profit margin item (at a restaurant with a bar), then it might pay (even handsomely), to substitute liquors. I know some halfway decent scotches are almost half the price of others.
                                                                                                                          One expert (?) says profits can be 25% or more on booze. http://en.allexperts.com/q/Running-Re...
                                                                                                                          while a Chowhound says food profit averages 10% http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/3002...

                                                                                                                          Seems like it might pay the owner/manager (though I'm not even going to try and do the math), to be in cahoots with the bartender and switch out liquor. Even your standard liquor (lets say the low-end Dewars), could be substituted with a cheaper whiskey. This is the opposite of "shrinkage" isn't it?
                                                                                                                          Then there are the people in this thread who say they have first or second hand info on this happening. Though I can't question your experience, it seems you must run with a very ethical, honest crowd.

                                                                                                                          1. re: Scargod

                                                                                                                            "an ethical, honest crowd"

                                                                                                                            sorry whom are you referring to? my boss who laundered money for the shanghai triad and skimmed her employees' union dues to fuel her & her bro's gambling habit? another boss who famously smoked crack with the bouncers after hours, grabbed the smith & wesson revolver from behind the bar & put a few holes in the front door at 4 am shooting at a guy who wasn't standing there? or another of my bosses, a sad little humpty dumpty of a man who bought hookers drinks all night so that *someone* would talk to him. . .

                                                                                                                            well, these shining examples of humanity with big buck, expensive habits: gambling, drugs, prostitution--- did. not. substitute. liquor. even when the bars were already going out of business, as 2/3 of them have done.

                                                                                                                            it also isn't "who i run with"-- it's *everybody* i know in the hospitality biz-- who works for me, who i've worked with, dh's same, and everyone they've ever worked with, people i'm aquainted with, people who come out of other people's kitchens and other people's foh and talk about it with their new co-workers. it's the bar biz, which like the theater biz (in fact there is quite a bit of an overlap)-- is quite insular, & has a lot of loose lips, and *everybody* has worked for/with somebody at one time or another, or they know who has. everyone's 2 or 3 degrees of separation, if you know what i mean, all over town. trust me, if this was going on anywhere, it would be *scandalous,* the word would spread like wildfire, i'd hear about it. i haven't, from anyone who's worked in hospitality for 30 years. (to clarify: i've only worked in hospitality for 18 years, dh is the same, but we hear from the folks who've worked before us, and the folks who worked with them. . . )

                                                                                                                            what people don't seem to realize in this thread is that the consequences for lq adulteration are very dire. if you lose your bar business, you/your family typically lose(s) *everything.* you don't shoot a hole in your cash cow's udder, just because you're trying to get the milk out faster. liquor adulteration isn't petty theft and it isn't a speeding ticket. it goes on your record, you can do jail time, your bar gets shut down and you permanently lose your reputation.

                                                                                                                            another thing people don't seem to realize is that bartenders are peons. the house doesn't/wouldn't split diddly with the bts any more than they'd give a server a cut of the profits. why would they? bts work for $5 an hour plus TIPS and if you shitcan a bt there is another one waiting to do the job. bts have no incentive to do this type of thing, and if they're dishonest there's about ten cheats they'd try before attempting a stupid trick like this, where they're pretty much instantaneously canned if/when they get caught. again, even if you're a real piece of work as a human being, it pays to be an honest bartender because you'll make the money in tips that you'd make doing a bunch of stupid stuff, and get to keep your job and sleep with an easy conscience. . .

                                                                                                                            this thread is funny though. bar owners skirting the law all over the country to get a few percentage points on cocktails-- hey it's more fun to do something totally illegal that will cost them their business than it is to raise prices or cover charges!

                                                                                                                            1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                                              Fact is, all of what you say may be true in the circles you travel in. But your view does not hold water.

                                                                                                                              By the same argument no one would ever rob a bank, knowingly sell adulterated or contaminated food (recent peanut butter scandal just one example) or commit any serious crime. That there are dumb, evil people out there is just no surprise to me. Particularly in the rough and tumble business or running a bar.

                                                                                                                              Plenty of folks posting in this thread, some of whom are reliable posters on chowhound say this happens some times at some places. Places you are not familiar with. Why doubt them?

                                                                                                                  2. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                                    "with the knowledge, consent, and abetment of the establishment they work at, no less! i am definitely saying that this doesn't happen. the house sure doesn't stand to gain anything, so why would they allow it? & bartenders are completely dependent on their regulars and would *much* sooner cut off a toe than do anything like this, they would lose their reputations and their livelihoods."

                                                                                                                    So basically you are calling me & my friend a liar. I guess you have never been to the Sunset Strip... there are no regulars. I am not testifying to anything other than two places I know for a fact.

                                                                                                                    1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                                                                      right-- there are no regulars-- there are no repeat customers. that's why they get away with cheating their customers. your bud works for a place that's in biz to scam tourists and fleece them for their money. you can compare a place like that to a few other fleecing operations in tourist areas, and some folks would say that if a person is foolish enough to patronize a place like that, then they deserve to be fleeced (i wouldn't)-- but you can't even begin to base a comparison across the whole industry on one totally corrupt person at one totally corrupt establishment.

                                                                                                                    2. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                                      "the house sure doesn't stand to gain anything, so why would they allow it?"

                                                                                                                      If the scenario of full bottles at the beginning of service does occur (or filling bottles with cheaper spirits), wouldn't the owner profit and the bartender be in collusion?
                                                                                                                      As I said (above), I watched a bartender/waitress at an upscale restaurant combining dribs and drabs from the previous day's open bottles of wine into one. It might not be illegal but it sure does make for crappy house wine.

                                                                                        2. re: dukeofsandwich

                                                                                          I've had it happen, though it was more the opposite situation from what's being discussed here. I was at a hotel bar in Dallas with a limited selection and I ordered a Knob Creek, but they served me a Baker's (which is now a bit more expensive but I think was more comparably priced back then). I asked the bartender about it and he just said casually that they were out of Knob Creek. He certainly wasn't trying to screw me, as he wasn't saving the bar any money, he just didn't have what I asked for and didn't think I'd notice. I would have rather been told, of course. I told him not to fool with someone's Bourbon and we laughed about it, and hopefully he learned a lesson.

                                                                                        3. Dude, I think I agree with some of you that Macallan 12yr has changed. I received a bottle as a birthday present last week and damn it has bite and is rough. Not the softer scotch that I remember.


                                                                                          1. You know, as I sit here in the Boise airport, I'm drinking something I was told is Maker's Mark. It definitely isn't, in fact I think it's Jim Beam. Oh well, the company's paying, so I guess I can't complain, but you never know...

                                                                                            2 Replies
                                                                                            1. re: ed1066

                                                                                              Are you drinking it neat or on the rocks?

                                                                                              1. re: KTinNYC

                                                                                                I had a similar situation happen at the bar where I work.. The customer ordered a certain single malt scotch on the rocks from a waitress. I then watch it melt on the customer's table for a least fifteen minutes before the customer takes a sip. The waitress says, he says this isn't the scotch that he ordered. It was but I pour another and have her bring it over and make him try it before it gets too watered down from melting ice. " No this isn't such and such scotch" he claims again. So I then decide to strain out the watered down scotch when he sends it back and top it off with our rail scotch which is House of Stuart which costs about 4 dollars a bottle and of course after that he is happy with his selection. Amoral possibly, uncalled for? I don't know.

                                                                                            2. I've finally heard of a report of a bar switching premium vodka for the cheap stuff. A friend of mine is a cocktail waitress at said bar. The establishment is not a dive bar but a very expensive bar located in a hotel in midtown Manhattan that bills itself as "One of New York's hottest nightspots from the moment it opened". As I said previously, I knew this happened but I have never seen it myself.

                                                                                              5 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: KTinNYC

                                                                                                "Three of the last four restaurants I have worked at poured well liquor into call bottles, empty at time of pouring. I saw it done at all three."
                                                                                                "If it's true then go ahead and name names"
                                                                                                I'm a bit lost, I would have taken your response to my post to mean that you have registered my report.
                                                                                                To your and Soupkittens many good points I'd add this. There are gray arguments capable of persuading some. As has been noted, many mixed drinks that have been made with call or well brands can not be told apart. When bar persons are confronted with this they can, and sometimes do, fall in with owners wishes to sub well for call. This offers no advantage to the bar tenders other than seeming like reasonable employees, even to themselves. They feel that they can still put the touches on the drinks which sets it above the average. This in no way makes it right, just makes it like the chef who uses a 5%-95% blend of Valrhona to no name in what appears on the menu as Valrhona chocolate cake.

                                                                                                1. re: KTinNYC

                                                                                                  And here's more on it happening in New York City, though BLVD/Crash Manision, the establishement referenced, is not in Midtown.




                                                                                                  As the story just broke today, I would expect to see upcoming reports in the Daily News and the Times in the forthcoming days.

                                                                                                  1. re: NYChristopher

                                                                                                    I just started a job yesterday...bartending of course. I was told that the house rules are to put "rot gut" liquor in the expensive bottles. I am having second thoughts about working here...I don't think that this is right. What should I do?

                                                                                                    1. re: YourLilChef

                                                                                                      "I don't think that this is right."

                                                                                                      It's not right and it's illegal but that having been said if you need the money you need the money. But I'd look for another job. If the owners are shady enough to rip off the customers they won't think twice about ripping you off.

                                                                                                      Just a few technical questions. When are you expected to replace the expensive the liquor with the "rot gut"? Where do you do it so the customer doesn't see and when a bottle runs out and you have to replace it don't customers see that you never have to break a seal on the liquor?

                                                                                                      1. re: YourLilChef

                                                                                                        It's a horrible time to have to leave a job, I know. However, you can be individually charged with a crime for switching liquor. And will you be able to sleep at night wondering if the next day is the day the State Liquor Board comes in and raids the place. I assure you that *someone* is going to find out about this establishment's practices and the consequences ain't gonna be pretty.

                                                                                                  2. Fascinating thread! Based upon having dated bartenders & cocktail waitresses in the past, as well as being friends and business associates with nightclub owners, I'd like to add the following:

                                                                                                    A seal on a bottle is not a guarantee of authenticity. Certain types of establishments that do significant amounts of bottle service for their patrons can easily invest in the machinery and materials necessary to fool unsuspecting customers into believing they're getting a new bottle. Most people wouldn't know if a bottle should come with an embossed metallic foil wrap, or just plain shrink wrap (and it would be easy to explain a difference as "retail packaging versus generic/industry packaging" if it were ever pointed out by a sharp-eyed customer). And recapping a bottle with a fresh cap & seal would allay any concerns about the shrink or foil wrapping.

                                                                                                    I'm not saying I ever saw this happen or had active knowledge of an establishment practicing such shenanigans. But the ROI is pretty compelling if you're selling 50+ bottles during the course of a weekend, week-in week-out. If you could recycle half of those bottles that are still in pristine condition and put in a blend of the actual spirit along with a cheaper competitor, then the allure becomes very real. Even connoisseurs of vodka would have a difficult time noticing a blend of Grey Goose & Absolut in a loud nightclub, especially when few drops of the "Goose" are being consumed straight from the bottle. Put GG, Absolut and cranberry over ice with a lime while lights are flashing and music is blasting at 90+ decibels, and it's damn near impossible to detect.

                                                                                                    1. I used to love ahsolut vodka due to the almost nonexistent taste. Can recall more than once drinking what tasted more like the low-grade bitter vodkas. And yes wait staff swore if was Absolut but no way.

                                                                                                      1. I have been in the bar business for nearly 30 years, and I have only worked in 1 bar that tried to play the game of switching cheaper stuff for brand name. This was done by an assistant manager on a couple of cordials. Dumb, I know. I complained to the General Manager and the guy was fired.
                                                                                                        To try to switch a single malt is exceptionally stupid. This is something that is consumed by itself 99% of the time. If you don't like the taste, you aren't going to pay $15-45 and even higher per glass.
                                                                                                        Things do happen-- the Triple sec pour spout goes onto the Ketel One bottle and taints the taste of the bottle. Open and new bottle and move on.

                                                                                                        1. I have been in the bar business for nearly 30 years, and I have only worked in 1 bar that tried to play the game of switching cheaper stuff for brand name. This was done by an assistant manager on a couple of cordials. Dumb, I know. I complained to the General Manager and the guy was fired.
                                                                                                          To try to switch a single malt is exceptionally stupid. This is something that is consumed by itself 99% of the time. If you don't like the taste, you aren't going to pay $15-45 and even higher per glass.
                                                                                                          Things do happen-- the Triple sec pour spout goes onto the Ketel One bottle and taints the taste of the bottle. Open and new bottle and move on.